Monday, March 20, 2006


An Offer I Have To Refuse

As a county activist it is important to have no conflict of interests. It is important that people can trust what I say and write. I do not want to do anything that could compromise my integrity. My husband and I ARE NOT ACCEPTING the free “gift from Lawrenceburg Council” for reasons outlined below.

When Lawrenceburg extended sewer service to Perfect North Slopes, the council via the utility company made an offer to county residents of Pribble Road that seems to be almost too good a deal to be true. They offered us each free tap in, a free E-one 2010 grinder pump, and the excavation and pipe between them (value approximately $6,000 per the contractor.) I was asked to “not noise this around” as it was not offered to other neighborhoods. I cannot, in good conscience, honor that request.

Something just doesn’t feel right about Lawrenceburg City Council’s “gift.”

We are not residents of the city of Lawrenceburg. Neither is Perfect North Slopes. This line runs past two long-time family farms and a wildlife habitat area – all agricultural uses.

I researched the 2005 and 2006 Lawrenceburg utility and council minutes. Then I asked Mayor Cunningham and Mel Davis, the utility director, for the contract between the city and Perfect North Slopes for the new 6-inch forced main sewer line and also the final scope of work and contract.

Mayor Cunningham and Mel Davis then told me that there is no contract with Perfect North Slopes. The sewer line down Pribble Road is being financed entirely by Lawrenceburg.

Lykins is the low bidder at $259,365. Lawrenceburg has not sent the requested final scope of work, but when I called the clerk treasurer I was informed that the bid price includes the free “installations” for the 11 county residents along the line. Like Mel Davis and Mayor Cunningham, she said: “the city thought PNS’s monthly fees for sewage collection and treatment made it worthwhile to install the line at the city’s expense.”

PNS’s “large scale usage” will be primarily from November through March. What happens to the line in the off months concerns the neighbors, because experts tell me a line that big with little flow can “go septic.”

We have been given nothing in writing from Lawrenceburg to indicate what they are providing and what they expect from us in return. When questioned about annexation, Mel Davis and Mayor Cunningham told me they have no plans to annex and we are NOT required to sign any statements stating we won’t oppose it, if it would be proposed. Yet the mayor says they plan to annex out to the Y at SR148 and they want to annex Tower Road.

We have had no say in the type of line that was run for a private business.We were originally told earlier in 2005by Mel Davis that PNS was paying for this sewer line and so it seemed obvious that the type of line would have to be PNS’s choice as it was their money being spent on the line. Apparently that was not true (or is no longer true.)

In the fall of 2005 when I asked if we could access the line via gravity feed, as many of our homes are designed for that, Davis told me that the line was already designed and IDEM had approved that design, and they couldn’t change it now. They would talk about a lift maybe in our area afterward. Now they say that is not possible as it would cost $100,000. How ironic! We live on what is nearly the highest point of land in Dearborn County and can’t have a lower maintenance gravity fed sewer system!

One of the criteria used to assess property values for real estate taxes is the availability of sewers. Most farms do not need sewers, nor do they want their real estate taxes to increase on land that is farmed and not developed. Farmers generally don’t want to be annexed to cities. Their land uses are incompatible with city development.

Grinder pumps in rural areas are a liability. A power outage basically stops water usage in the home. Long pressure lines to the street along with pumps that fail in under ten years all add up to more things to maintain and increased costs. Setting aside an additional $30 a month to replace the pump in ten years adds $360 to a household’s annual budget. That doesn’t include the monthly sewer fee itself. Then, of course there’s that nasty little problem of check valves that ultimately fail and sewage that ends up in the basement.

In my experience in rural areas, septic tanks are reliable. They have the advantage that when they aren’t maintained or something goes wrong, their failures are generally outside the home and not inside the basement. That is far safer and healthier than sewage in the house. And in rural areas they can generally be fixed, because there is enough available land.

It doesn’t seem fair to accept a deal that others in the county have not been offered. In light of the disparity in costs throughout the county it doesn’t seem right that we get a $6,000 “gift” while northern Dearborn County residents in the St. Leon sewer district are paying tap in fees as high as $4,000 in addition to their excavation and pump costs.

Something doesn’t smell right. And it isn’t the sewage.

A closer look at Lawrenceburg Council “gifts” and “loans” in 2005 indicates a lack of criteria. Public entities have to pay back “loans” Emergency Management radio systems and equipment that is clearly for public use. On the other hand, private businesses and property owners have been given grants and “gifts.” Why do public entities have to PAY BACK loans, while private businesses and property owners RECEIVE “gifts?”

WHO gets what and WHY they get it are not clearly defined. It is a system ripe for abuse and potential corruption.

On the state level we need to take a serious look at the laws that are driving this sewage overgrowth, because these laws were made to help sewer providers and developers, but they are increasingly harmful to farmers and especially elderly landowners on fixed incomes. Communications with our state representatives about St. Leon’s troubles produced replies that included this statement:

“The current short session is just about half over and the deadline for drafting new legislation has already passed. I understand that most of the parties involved have attorneys and are already in legal proceedings at this time. Depending on what transpires with that situation will determine what can be done the next legislative session. Even though your idea sounds reasonable, I am sure there will be many lobbying groups in opposition. Rest assured that I will keep your thoughts in mind and should you have any further concerns please don't hesitate to contact me.”

No one wants to invest in repairs if they will be later forced to a sewer line. I wonder what lobbying groups would be opposed to an amendment to the current law exempting farmers and large lot rural landowners from being forced onto a sewer line IF their system is functioning or repairable?

Even the county regional sewer district (DCRSD) is looking at sewers from a development point of view rather than from the health and environmental view. Why stall the original “reason” for a sewer district (HighRidge Estates) where homes are tied to a long-time failed package plant? The environment is being degraded and health hazards are obvious.
Why try to attach to Aurora’s system when IDEM states they are in violation for repeated overflows? Instead DCRSD asks for variances to increase the load on a system in violation.
Why have the concerns for health and safety taken a back seat to just putting lines in to accommodate development without a thought of the environmental impacts?
What will happen as sewer districts install initially cheap pressure lines and repairs are needed in a few years? If the pace proceeds at the current rate, the tap in fees and the monthly rates for all sewer users will have to increase to accommodate maintenance and replacement.

Why are we leap-frogging development over rural acreages and forcing the rural landowners and farmers to tap in and help pay for the development beyond them? This is not following the county master plan to develop from existing infrastructure outward.

Developers need sewers. Farmers and rural landowners should not be forced to pay for them.

Christine Brauer Mueller
Lawrenceburg Township

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